I was lucky. I had an amazing pregnancy—it was one of the happiest times of my life. I gained very little weight with zero stretch marks despite carrying twins, much to my surprise. At my six-week post-partum checkup, I was only 6 pounds shy of my pre-pregnancy weight. All of my old skinny jeans fit. I was elated.A few months after I stopped breastfeeding, I slipped on a pair of my skinny jeans and could hardly squeeze the button through the loop. I checked the size—it was the same one I’d been wearing for months post-pregnancy. But I could barely breathe in them. I hopped on a scale at my gym and discovered that in about two months time, I’d put on an extra 10 pounds after giving birth, despite sticking with my same workout regimen with my personal trainer and good eating habits.I felt distraught, confused and awful about myself. I remember standing naked in front of my bathroom mirror later that day and thinking, “How did this happen?”Invasion of the Body SnatchersI didn’t and still don’t have an answer. I just know that my body has changed. When I rest my hand on my stomach, the sensation under my fingertips is unfamiliar. It feels like someone else’s stomach is on my body, a real-life version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”—whose body is this? After decades of knowing my body so intimately well, it’s surreal to see and feel the pooch created by my C-section scar, like upholstery that was pinned too tight so it now bulges. I don’t know who this stomach belongs to, but I sure wish they’d take it back and bring me my old one. But my old one is gone.As someone who never really had major body image issues before, it was a strange, dark place to be. Sure, there are parts I’ve wished were smaller, but overall, I loved and appreciated my body and all it can do and never felt so self-conscious that it was hard to be in my own skin. But the physical fallout from my near-perfect pregnancy—the unexpected post-breastfeeding weight gain, the looser skin that obscured my formerly small, Hourglass waist so that my clothes no longer fit the same—rocked the foundation of my confidence. And it surprised the hell out of me.
Part of what makes it so challenging to be kind to your post-baby body is that there are so few images out there of what regular women look like after having a baby, but there are a plethora of images splashed on magazine covers showing celebrities— from Beyoncé and Heidi Klum to Jessica Alba and Miranda Kerr—who rocked bikini bodies mere weeks after giving birth.Even if you logically know it’s insane to compare yourself to women who a) won the genetic lottery and b) have to stay in shape for their careers and have a cadre of people to help them achieve that, it’s hard not to line up your body next to theirs. And the result is, you feel like utter crap.
Finding Realistic Role ModelsSo I did some searching and found some amazing, realistic images of regular women after having a baby, from the powerful photos in the “4th Trimester Bodies Project” by Ashlee Wells Jackson to Shape of a Mother, which is a site for women where they can post pictures of their bodies after baby and receive support and encouragement, as well as “The Book of Mothers” by photographer and mom Jade Beall. After struggling with feeling “unbeautiful” for years, Beall started taking her own nude, post-baby self-portraits, she says, “because 95 percent of women will not see ourselves reflected in mainstream media.” Her portraits show moms in all shapes and sizes, looking joyful and relishing their bodies and motherhood.As I scanned through the photos, I thought each woman was beautiful and I admired their vulnerability. I saw their bodies as strong, nurturing and womanly. The truth is I would never judge them as harshly as I have judged myself. Looking at those images, I felt like an ass for having such crazy-high expectations about what my body should look like and for not loving the body I now have.Lost in the matrix of Pinterest, I also came across designer Justina Blakeney’s blog post, “Nine Months Later: My Body and Beyoncé,” about her struggle to accept her post-baby body, which really hit home for me. Blakeney writes: “As I was browsing through the jersey-top jeans and elasticized balloon tops, I was being stared at by huge posters of Beyoncé on the beach, in a bikini, looking damn hot, I might add. It took pretty much all the willpower in the world for me to not lose it right there at H&M. Why doesn’t my body look like Beyonce’s? After all, we had our babies just a few months apart. Damn that C-section.”But unlike so many women who have wondered when or if they’ll get their old bodies back, Blakeney writes: “So I’m not going to ask you how long it took you to ‘get your body back’—and even that type of rhetoric is bumming me out these days. Get your body back from where or from whom? My body never left, she’s been here all along. What I need to get back isn’t my body—but my comfortability in my body, my confidence, my f*ckitedness. Truth is, I never had Beyonce’s body—not when I was fourteen, not when I was at my skinniest, not before I had a baby. I had my body, and I still do. Now I just have to figure out how to love this body a little better.”It was exactly what I needed to hear—I needed to get my goddamn fire back. And then I lucked out in the weirdest way: I discovered I’m lactose intolerant post-pregnancy and had to say sayonara to all things cheesy and my beloved treat: ice cream. I shed the 10 pounds I’d put on post-breastfeeding and dropped two jeans sizes. The day I slipped on my pre-baby skinny jeans, I actually raised a fist in the air and shouted, “Yes!” like I was in some sort of cereal commercial. It felt damn good.Will my stomach ever be what it was? Nope. And it’s been a humbling journey to rebuild my self-esteem, brick by brick, after taking a serious hit. But I have good reason to keep at it: I have twin daughters and even though they are young toddlers, I am keenly aware of how my body language and how I speak about my own body can influence their perceptions of their own beautiful little bodies.So I continue to make those healthy choices—working out, eating right—and I see how that’s paying off with my body in strength and self-esteem. I appreciate and absorb the compliments of my husband who tells me I’m beautiful and sexy. And I continue to work on accepting and loving my body as it is now.And day by day, I’m getting back my “f*ckitedness.”